Ideal location for writing frenzy?
November 11, 2009 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I am taking January off work to finish as much of my PhD writing up as I can. I know that I will be totally unproductive if I try and work at home, so am thinking of escaping somewhere (library, hotel, cottage, writing retreat?) for up to four weeks. I’d welcome suggestions, both generic ones about types of locations that have worked for you and also specific suggestions (I live in the UK). I’m thinking that working somewhere with busy but quiet people around would work better for me than total isolation, but am open to any ideas. I don’t need to bring lots of stuff with me and am probably better off without wifi (although internet access requiring a bit of hassle could be useful to check references etc). Money not a particular object as I’m going to have to pay another year’s fees (£3k) if I don’t finish soon, anyway...
posted by janecr to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say go to a library and get this thing banged out.

You also need to set solid goals for daily and weekly output. Without these, you'll find yourself meandering about. I did this for the classes in law school which required research papers, and it worked well.
posted by reenum at 9:45 AM on November 11, 2009

Look up Coworking spaces near you. I would love to do this if I could afford it. Basically an office is rented out by desk. You get access to internet, conference rooms, copy machines, sometimes even someone to answer phones. You can usually buy a day to a month at a time. They're usually populated with freelancers, esp web developers, designers, writers for hire, etc. They tend to be nicely designed, and a mix between cozy coffee shop and sterile cubicle world. People are there ostensibly to do work, but I think the occasional short distraction actually helps me be more productive.

All in all, if you're in an environment that you like, and makes you feel good to be there, (eg. Hey, good morning Sally, have a nice weekend? Whaddya bring for lunch? etc) You'll be more productive.

Googling coworking UK turned up this page
posted by fontophilic at 10:04 AM on November 11, 2009

Escape to Ireland! Come to Cork; you don't need a car, you can fly direct from the UK, and at the top end of the market you can go basic for €600 or swank it up for a a month for €2,000. (Although I'm really, really sure that's negotiable.) You can, obviously, pop down the road any time to an Internet cafe to check email, etc, and we have a city library and the academic library at UCC as well.

I think being around other people in a small city would nicely counteract some of the isolation of not knowing anyone, but this is also a very, very friendly city so if you wanted a social cruise director so you got to meet some folks and got out a couple of nights a week, that's easily arranged.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:07 AM on November 11, 2009

The British Library or the Bodleian or the Fitzwilliam? Your institutional credentials should mean that it's relatively painless to get a reader's card there, or at any university library for that matter. Those places have a way of shaping your day in ways that are usefully productive, especially if you can find a comfortable spot. The reference sections of the great Victorian central libraries -- Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh -- also have the right kind of quiet, but they don't necessarily have the same concentration of focused people to define the atmosphere.
posted by holgate at 10:08 AM on November 11, 2009

When I was writing up, I worked in a hostel in the Highlands. Earned money, free place to sleep and eat, loads of free time to write, calm surroundings.
posted by Cuppatea at 10:09 AM on November 11, 2009

Everyone is different, but for me moving to a non-home physical location never works, I end up doing no work at all and just treating it as a vacation. But I'm with you on not being able to write in my actual apartment.

What I would do is just pick out a friendly, quiet coffee shop in your area. Go every day, write. Get to know the staff, so you'll have some smiling faces to support you. Write there, go home, rest, repeat.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:17 AM on November 11, 2009

Can your advisor set you up with some office space in your department? I was lucky and had office space the entire time I was a grad student and I found it was the only place I could get any real work done. Sure there are people around that you know and might be tempted to chat with, but seeing others work on their own projects is a big motivator especially if they are working in your field of study, competition and all.
posted by wigner3j at 10:27 AM on November 11, 2009

Never been there myself, but I have occasionally come across references to St. Deiniols Library as being a good place for this.
posted by Jabberwocky at 10:35 AM on November 11, 2009

Pick a few coffee houses and rotate, and make sure to bring your headphones.. although I would avoid The Judge's House at all costs.
posted by pwally at 10:36 AM on November 11, 2009

Having recently come back from Colonsay, I cam heartily recommend the linked property or any other on the island.
posted by minervous at 10:39 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Be aware of *when* you work - I am most productive at 10am-noon and 3:30pm-7pm. When I was writing my dissertation, I usually skipped the morning window in favor of a 9:30pm-2am push. If you know that late nights work for you, don't force your writing into the 9am-6m window that the (library, co-working site, etc) is open. If you know that your optimal times include peak dining hours, don't plan on setting up shop at a cafe.

I was fortunate enough to have a permanent desk on-campus, and though I shared the room with 10 other students, I found that being "on a roll" with the writing (or totally distractable) was totally independent of anything else that might have been going on in the room. I have typically done very badly with setting myself up to work in new spaces - I spend so much time settling myself down and trying to create the ideal environment that it's like I'm play-acting "writer", and nothing actually gets done. I agree with drjimmy that doing the same thing every day would be important, as any new space is likely to be a wash for me the first week, until it stops feeling new.
posted by aimedwander at 10:40 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Quick note for Americans: unless something has changed very drastically in my time away, there really isn't the same 'coffee shop as study venue' thing in Britain, even in university towns. Coffee shops are for library breaks.
posted by holgate at 10:45 AM on November 11, 2009

When I took my first Masters back in 1998 I was in the same position; too many distractions at home coupled with a dreadful deadline meant that I had to do something extreme.

I flew to Frankfurt and took up residence in a hotel about one hour north of the city.

My German was (is?) basic, just enough to get myself a room and order food when I needed it. Couldn't watch TV if I'd wanted as this small town hotel, lacking cable, only carried German language programes.

Took all my meals in the room, with the exception of lunch when I left for an hour and the maid would do her thing.

Kept same work hours while writing my dissertation (I'm in banking), so I was up at 6, working by 6:15 or so, and would push on until 9PM at night when I'd stop to watch a few Simpsons episodes on my Mac while eating dinner.

Got more done in that week than I could have or ever did in one month back in London.

Got a Merit on my dissertation and degree, money well spent.

I'm writing my MBA dissertation now and seriously wish I could just disappear off to The Continent again. I'd be done already if I could dodge some distractions ...
posted by Mutant at 10:46 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Are you a member of a club? I am thinking of a traditional one which has a well appointed, comfortable club house. I sometimes work in the Scottish Malt Whisky society club in Edinburgh - during the day there are usually others who are there to write or conduct low-key business meetings.
posted by rongorongo at 11:01 AM on November 11, 2009

I'm going to dismiss everyone who's saying "Just do it in place" because to be honest, if you could do it in place, you would have already done it.

Writer's retreats are really helpful for many, many people, because changing scenery and not worrying about things like cooking dinner for yourself makes a HUGE difference.

I know someone who stayed here and liked it. I have many more suggestions for the US and CN, if you're willing to invest in the trans-Atlantic airfare.

Or go to a seaside hotel and do full-board, and make your own writer's retreat of one.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:08 AM on November 11, 2009

When the time comes to write my 'big paper' (ie.. the one that will get into Nature and set the rest of my career - hypothetically) I plan on escaping to the islands off Scotland to write it up.

If you have been to Skye it is about as remote and quiet as you will find in the UK - but connected enough to not make you feel like a hermit. We stayed in a bothy near Portnalong and it was absolutely magic and very reasonably priced.

You could even go further afield to Orkney or the Hebrides. I think it would be a writer's dream to squat up there and punch out a manuscript/paper/thesis.

good luck!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 11:28 AM on November 11, 2009

Where are you now? That's a good thing for us to know. I know you say money is no object, but somewhere reachable probably helps!

When I was writing up my PhD the best week I spent was one without even a computer - I was working on my background chapter and my parents had hired a gite with a swimming pool miles from anywhere in France. No computer, no net... just a rucksack which contained writing pads and academic papers and 3 t-shirts, some pants, some shorts and a swimsuit. I let myself have a swim every 3 papers I'd read and incorporated. It took me a whole day to type in what I'd written, and I type fast.
posted by handee at 1:00 PM on November 11, 2009

I can second Colonsay - it's remote, beautiful, full of friendly people, inspiring, and you could probably volunteer to help out with crofting or the like to give yourself something else to do and keep your time allotted. The two-hour ferry ride is a wonderful mental break to allow you to really immerse yourself into a different routine and different purpose!
posted by ukdanae at 1:06 PM on November 11, 2009

Jura worked for Orwell (here, here)
posted by caek at 4:01 PM on November 11, 2009

If you decide to stay in your own city, make sure you have a work space set up in your home for days when your other options are too loud / too busy / generally driving you nuts.

When I was struggling with my own research write-up, I ended up rearranging my apartment so that the kitchen table was up against the living room window. That way, I could work facing the outdoors, with my back to all the distractions of home. I got tons of writing done, and I could do it all in my pyjamas, which made it even better.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 2:06 PM on November 12, 2009

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